This Therapist Wants You To Stop Telling Angry Kids To 'Take A Deep Breath'

So, what are you meant to say?
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A therapist has urged parents to stop telling children to “take a deep breath” during a tantrum or angry spell, and shared an extremely simple tweak to the method they can try instead.

Dr Jazmine McCoy, known as The Mom Psychologist on social media, shared a video on Instagram explaining to parents that while the intention behind the statement is good, “the truth of the matter is these things need to be self-initiated”.

“Coping skills need to be self-initiated. They shouldn’t be forced. No one wants to feel controlled, especially with their feelings,” she shared in the caption for the video.

The advice comes in response to more general advice surrounding coping with tantrums, where parents are urged to ask kids to “take a deep breath” to try and teach them strategies that don’t involve hitting or lashing out.

While this is all well and good, some experts suggest it could just result in bigger outbursts. Not ideal. Amanda Zaidman, a child therapist, shared in a piece for Constructive Parenting that “using your breath to help you calm down can be very challenging – especially for a child”.

She added that “if you don’t do it correctly, telling your child to ‘just breathe’ usually leads to an even more explosive tantrum”.

What can parents say instead?

It’s a really simple tweak. Dr McCoy suggested instead you could try saying something like: “We’re having a hard moment. I’m going to take a deep breath to calm my body down.” And then take some deep breaths yourself.

She added: “If they join in, great. If they don’t, great. But kids are more likely to join us if they feel like we’re doing it with them and it’s not something we’re forcing them to do.”

By doing this, parents are no longer coming across like they’re trying to “change or fix” their child’s feelings. Rather, they’re showing a coping mechanism that works for them, in the hope their child will start to do it, too.

Experts agree this method of modelling how to do it is much more effective than simply telling them what to do.

Fulroop Sidhu, a child psychiatrist in Vancouver, told Today’s Parent: “It’s teaching our kids in a non-pressured way that we all have these different emotions all the time. By taking breaths when we’re upset, kids will start to model that and learn that too.”

Parents mostly agreed with Dr McCoy’s comments. One replied: “As an adult, I feel like inflicting violence on someone when they tell me to ‘take a deep breath’. Definitely wouldn’t tell that to my child bc [because] it makes matters worse and seems kind of rude and invalidating.”

Another said: “Thank you so much for this. I thought I was failing, every time I would suggest it, the meltdown would get so much worse and I would eventually have to say, ‘I cant help you if you won’t let me!’ and I couldn’t find any information on why it wasn’t working.

“This makes so much sense and will be an easy shift to make, I think my kiddo will respond very well to it. THANK YOU.”

One parent said they’d already put it into action and had seen a noticeable difference in their child. “This is life changing advice,” they responded. “What a simple twist – I started doing this yesterday and my daughter responded so well! Thank you so much for this.”